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Jibanananda Das

Banalata Sen

For thousands of years I roamed the paths of this earth,
From waters round Ceylon in dead of night to Malayan seas.
Much have I wandered. I was there in the grey world of Asoka
And Bimbisara, pressed on through darkness to the city of Vidarbha.
I am a weary heart surrounded by life's frothy ocean.
To me she gave a moment's peace — Banalata Sen from Natore.

Her hair was like an ancient darkling night in Vidisa,
Her face, the craftsmanship of Sravasti. As the helmsman,
His rudder broken, far out upon the sea adrift,
Sees the grass-green land of a cinnamon isle, just so
Through darkness I saw her. Said she, "Where have you been so long?"
And raised her bird's nest-like eyes — Banalata Sen from Natore.

At day's end, like hush of dew
Comes evening. A hawk wipes the scent of sunlight from its wings.
When earth's colors fade and some pale design is sketched,
Then glimmering fireflies paint in the story.
All birds come home, all rivers, all of this life's tasks finished.
Only darkness remains, as I sit there face to face with Banalata Sen.

Translated by Clinton B. Seely


Again and again through the day
I meet a cat.
In the tree's shade, in the sun, in the crowding brown leaves.
After the success of a few fish bones
Or inside a skeleton of white earth
I find it, as absorbed in the purring
Of its heart as a bee.
Still it sharpens its claws on the gulmohar tree
And follows the sun all day long.

Mow I see it and then it is gone,
Losing itself somewhere.
On the autumn evening I have watched it play,
Stroking the soft body of the saffron sun
With a white paw. Then it caught
The darkness in paws like small balls
And scattered it all over the earth.

Translated by: Lila Ray

A Star Converses With One Particular Star All Night Long

My eyes are sleep-laden,
I return home taking with me songs of fallen crops!
Everything held secret is gone, — how long a dream lasts?
The sunset returned with its rose hue, —it does not resemble one!
Two stars conversed all night long,
Our face remains on earth all night long!

The night has progressed well,
Yet, I hardly felt it all these years!
Those who I never saw in daylight, — they all came in gloaming’s time;
The ones I never saw in the dust of the road – in smoke — among the crowd —
In my dream, I heard splash of water in the container, — the sound of bangles!
Under the night sky, I discovered them – aided by starlight!

My eyes were all awake
I witnessed many coloured-cloud-cover skies in the twilight and before the sunrise!
Alone, I returned to the rustic crop field so many days!
I tiptoed in a shady day by myself only like a flouncing butterfly
For so many a time! —In many inauspicious time, covering the meandering path
My trance ended, — the playhouse of my imagination came tumbling down.

Both my eyes are sleep-laden
I return home taking with me songs of fallen crops!
Everything held secret is gone, —how long a dream lasts?
The sunset returned with its rose hue, — it does not resemble one!
Two stars conversed all night long

Translated by  A.H. Jaffor Ullah

Naked Lonely Hand

Darkness once again thickens throughout the sky:
This darkness, like light's mysterious sister.
She who has loved me always,
Whose face I have yet to see,
Like that woman
Is this darkness, deepening, closing in upon a February sky.

A certain vanished city comes to mind,
In my heart wake outlines of some gray palace in that city.

On shores of the Indian ocean
or the Mediterranean
or the banks of the Sea of Tyre,
Not today, but once there was a city,
And a palace —
A palace lavishly furnished:
Persian carpets, Kashmiri shawls, flawless pearls
                         and coral from waters round Bahrain.
My lost heart, dead eyes, faded dream desires
And you, woman —
All these once filled that world.

There was orange sunlight,
Cockatoos and pigeons,
Dense, shady mahogany foliage.
There was orange sunlight,
Much orange-colored sunlight,
And you were there.
For how many hundreds of centuries I have not seen the beauty of your face,
Have not searched.
The February darkness brings with it this tale of a seashore,
Sorrowful lines of fantasy domes and arches,
Fragrance of invisible pears,
Countless deer and lion parchments, graying,
Stained glass rainbows rippling over drapes
A fleeting glow from
Room through anteroom to further inner room.
Momentary awe and wonder.

Sweat of ruddy sun, smeared on curtains, carpets,
Watermelon wine in red glasses!
Your naked lonely hand

Your naked lonely hand.

The Hunt

Sky, the soft blue of grasshopper's belly.
Guava and custard apple trees all around, green as parrot feathers.
A single star lingers in the sky
Like the most twilight-intoxicated girl in some village bridal chamber
or that pearl from her bosom the Egyptian dipped into my glass of
Nile-blue wine
one night some thousands of years ago —
Just so, in the sky shines a single star.

To warm their bodies through the cold night, up-country menials kept
a fire going
In the field-red fire like a cockscomb blossom,
Still burning, contorting dry aswattha leaves.

Its color in the light of the sun is no longer like vermilion
But has become like wan desires of a sickly salik bird's heart.
In the morning's light both sky and surrounding dewy forest sparkle
like iridescent peacock wings.

All night long a sleek brown buck, bounding from sundari through arjun forests
In starless, mahogany darkness, avoids the cheetah's grasp.
He had been waiting for this dawn.
Down he came in its glow,
Ripping, munching fragrant grass, green as green grapefruit.
Down he came to the river's stinging, tingling ripples,
To instill his sleepless, weary, bewildered body with the current's drive,
To feel a thrill like that of dawn
             bursting through the cold and wizened womb of darkness
To wake like gold sun-spears beneath this blue and
Dazzle doe after doe with beauty, boldness, desire.
A strange sound.

The river's water red like macaka flower petals.
Again the fire crackled-red venison served warm.
Many an old dew-dampened yarn, while seated on a bed of grass
beneath the stars.
Cigarette smoke.
Several human heads, hair neatly parted.
Guns here and there. Icy, calm, guiltless sleep.

In Camp

Here on the edge of the forest I pitched camp.
All night long in pleasant southern breezes
By the moon's light
I listen to the call of a doe in heat.
To whom is she calling?

Somewhere the deer are hunted tonight.
Hunters entered the forest today.
I too seem to catch their scent,
As I lie here upon my bed
Not drowsy at all
In this spring night.

Forest wonder everywhere,
An April breeze,
Like the taste of moonlight.
A doe in heat calls all night long.
Somewhere deep in the forest — beyond the reach of moonbeams —
All stags hear her sounds.
They sense her presence,
Come toward her.
Now, in this night of wonder
Their time for love arrives.
That sister of their hearts
In moonlight calls them from forest cover-
To quench their thirst-to smell-to savor!
As if this night's forest were free of tigers!
No clear fear fills those stags' breasts tonight,
Not even the shadow of uncertainty.
There is only thirst,
Perhaps wonder wakes in the cheetah's breast as well
                                         at the beauty of that doe's face.
Lust-longing-love-desire-dreams burst forth
In this springtide night.
Here is my nocturne.

One by one deer come from the wooded deep,
Leaving behind all water's sounds in search of another assurance.
Forgetting tooth and claw, they approach their sister there
Beneath the sundari, bathed in moonlight.
As man draws near his salty woman, lured by scent, so come those deer.
I sense them —
The sound of their many hooves.
In moonlight calls that doe in heat.
I can no longer sleep.
As I lie here
I hear gunshots.
Again I hear the sounding guns.
The doe in heat calls once more in the light of the moon.
As I lie fallen here alone
A weariness wells within my heart
While I listen to the sound of guns
And hear that doe's call.

Tomorrow she will return.
In the morning, by daylight, she can be seen.
Nearby lie her dead lovers.
Men have taught her all this.

I shall smell venison upon my dinner dish.
.. . Has not the eating of flesh ceased?
... But why should it?
Why must I be pained to think of these deer-
Am I not like them?
on some spring night
on one of life's wondrous nights
Did not someone come into the moonlight, call me too,
                                     in the pleasant southern breezes
Like that doe in heat?
My heart, a stag,
Forgetting the violence of this world,
All caution cast to the winds-all fear of the cheetah's eyes —
Had not it yearned to possess you?
When, like those dead deer, the love in my heart
Lay caked with blood and dust
Did not you, like this doe, live on
Through life's wondrous night
one spring night?

You too had learned from someone!
And we lie here, our flesh like that of dead animals.
All come, then fall in the face of separation — separation and death —
Like those slain deer.
By living-loving-longing for love, we are hurt, we hate and die,
Do we not?

I hear the report of a double-barreled gun.
That doe in heat calls on.
No sleep comes to this heart of mine
As I lie here, alone.
Yet one must silently forget the thunder of those guns.
Night speaks of other things upon camp beds.
They by whose barrels deer perished tonight,
Who relished flesh and bone of deer upon their dinner plates,
They too are like you.
Their hearts too wither there in sleeping bags.
Thinking-just thinking.

This pain, this love resides everywhere,
In the locust, the worm, in the breast of man,
In all the lives of us all.
Like those slain deer in spring's moonlight
Are we all.


Into the half light and shadow I go. Within my head
Not a dream, but some sensation is at work.
Not a dream, not peace, not love,
Inside my heart a sensation is born.
I cannot escape it
For it places its hand in mine,
And all else pales to insignificance-futile so it seems.
All thought, an eternity of prayer,
Seems empty.

Who can go on like the simple folk?
Who can pause in this half light and darkness
Like the simple people? Who can speak
Like them, anymore? Who can know
For certain anymore?
— Who seeks to understand
The carnal savors anymore?
— Who knows the joys
of life again, like everyman?
And sows seeds like everyman anymore?
Where is that relish? And who, hungry for harvest,
Has smeared himself with the scent of earth,
Has anointed himself with the scent of water,
Has gazed toward light with rapt attention,
Has gained a peasant heart,
Who would any longer remain awake upon his earth?
Not a dream-not peace-but some sensation is at work
Within my head.

When I walk along the beach, or cross from shore to shore
I try to ignore it.
I seize it as I would a dead man's skull
And wish to smash it on the ground. Yet it spins like a living head
All around my head,
All about my eyes,
All about my chest.
I move, it too comes along with me.
I stop
It too comes to a halt.

As I take my place among other beings
Am I becoming estranged and alone
Because of my mannerisms?
Is there just an optical illusion?
Are there only obstacles in my path?

Those who were born to this world
As children,
Those who spent their time
Giving birth to children,
or those who must give birth to children
Today, or those who come to the sown fields of this world,
For to give birth
— to give birth —
Is not my heart
Like theirs, their heart and head? Is not their mind
Like my mind?
Then why am I so alone?
Yet I am all alone.
Did I not raise my hand to see it hold a peasant's plough?
Have I not drawn water in a pail?
Have I not often gone with sickle to the fields?
How many wharfs and rivers have I been to
Like those who fish?
Algae from a pond, the smell of fish
Engulfed my body.
— All these tastes,
— All these I've had. My life has flowed
Like unchecked winds.
My mind slept as I lay beneath the stars
one day.
All these desires
I knew once-unchecked-unbounded.
Then I left them all behind.
I have looked upon woman with love.
I have looked upon woman with apathy.
I have looked upon woman with hate.

She has loved me,
And come near.
She has paid no heed to me.
She has despised me and gone away when I called her time and again,
Loving her.
Yet it was actually practiced one day-this love.
I paid no attention to her words of contempt,
No attention to the wrath of her hate,
And went my own way. I have forgotten
That star-the sinister influence of which
Blocked my path of love over and over again.
Still, this love-this dust and mud.

Within my head
Not a dream, not love, but some sensation is at work.
I leave all gods behind
And come close to my heart-
I speak to this heart.
Why does it mumble to itself alone like churning waters?
Is it never weary? Does it never have a moment's peace?
Will it never ever sleep? Will it not enjoy just
Resting calmly? or not know the joy
of gazing at the face of man?
of gazing at the face of woman?
of gazing at children's faces?

This sensation — only this desire —
What does it gain, immense — profound?
Does it not wish to leave the beaten paths
And seek the starry span of the sky? Has it vowed
To look upon that man's face?
To look upon that woman's face?
To look upon those children's faces?
Those sickly shadows under eyes,
The ears that cannot hear,
The hunchback-a goiter that arose upon the flesh,
A spoiled cucumber-chancred pumpkin,
All that is within man's heart
— All that.

Windy Night

Last night was thick with wind, a time of countless stars.
All night long, a vast wind played within my mosquito net.
At times that net swelled like a monsoon sea's belly.
Tearing loose from the bed every once in a while
It would try to fly to the stars.
Now and then it seemed to me — perhaps while half asleep —
that there was no mosquito net over my head at all,
As it soared like a white heron upon a sea of blue wind, skirting the
hip of the star Swati!
Last night was such a marvelous night.

All the dead stars awoke last night —
                there wasn't the least little space in the sky.
I saw the gray faces of all the world's beloved dead in those stars.
In the dark of night, in aswattha treetops, those stars glittered like a
lusty hawk's dewy eyes.
The huge sky gleamed in the moonlit night like a shining cheetah stole
upon the shoulders of Babylon's queen.
Last night was such an amazing night.

Those stars in the bosom of the sky that died thousands of years ago,
They, too, brought with them through the window last night
                                                             countless dead skies.
Those stunning women I saw die in Assyria, Egypt, Vidisa,
Seemed last night to stand shoulder to shoulder, javelin in hand,
                            in far-off mist and fog at the sky's horizon:
To trample death under foot?
To proclaim full victory for life?
To excite the sullen, frightful stupor of love?
I was overwhelmed — overcome,
As though torn by last night's compelling blue tyranny.
on the sky's endless, expansive wings
The earth, like some insect, was swept away last night.
From the sky's bosom came the lofty winds
Sighing through my window,
Like so very many zebras of a verdant land, startled by the lion's roar.

My heart filled with the scent of a vast green grassy veldt,
With horizon-flooding blazing sunlight scent,
With the restless, massive, vibrant, woolly outburst of darkness,
Like growls of an aroused tigress,
With life's untamable blue intoxication!

My heart tore free from the earth and flew,
Flew up like a drunken balloon into an ocean of blue wind,
To the mast of some distant constellation, scattering stars as it flapped
away like some mischievous vulture.

Before Death

We who have walked deserted stubble fields on a December evening,
Who have seen over the field's edge a soft river woman scattering
Her fog flowers-they all are like some village girls of old
We who have seen in darkness the akanda tree, the dhundul plant
Filled with fireflies, the moon standing quietly at the head of
An already harvested field-she has no yearning for that harvest;

We who have lived in the darkness of a long winter's night, who have
Heard wings flutter on a thatched roof in captivating night
The smell of an ancient owl, now lost again in the darkness!
Who have understood the beauty of a winter's night-wings buoyed up over
Fields brimming with deep joy, herons calling from aswattha tree limbs;
We who have understood all this secret magic of life;

We who have seen wild geese escape injury from a hunter's bullet
And fly away into the horizon's gentle blue moonlight;
We who have placed a loving hand upon the sheaves of paddy;
Like the evening crows, we who returned home full of desire;
Smell of a baby's breath, grass, sunlight, a kingfisher, stars, sky —
We who were aware of these as we came and went throughout the year;

Who have seen green leaves turn yellow in the November darkness,
Light and bulabuli birds frolicking in the windows of a cashew tree,
A mouse rubbing chaff over his silklike fur on a wintry night,
Waves forming in gray odors of rice and pouring down twice daily
Upon eyes of lonely fish, a duck in evening's darkness on the bank of a pond
Catching scent of sleep-the touch of a womanly hand carries him off

A golden hawk calling from the window of a minaretlike cloud,
Beneath a wicker vine a sparrow's eggs appearing so hard,
A river ever smearing its banks with fragrance of soft water,
Roof thatching casting shadows in deep night upon a moonlit courtyard,
Smell of crickets in the green wind of April's outlying fields,
Thick juice oozing with heavy desire into bluish custard apples' breasts;

We who have seen the red fruit fallen beneath the thick banyan,
The crowds of deserted fields seeing their faces in the river,
However blue the skies, yet finding one that is even bluer;
Who upon the paths have seen soft eyes casting their glow on the earth;
We who have seen evening each day flow over rows of betel nut trees,
The dawn appear every day simple and green like a sheaf of paddy;

We who have understood after many a day, month, season gone by
That daughter of the earth who came near and in the darkness spoke of
Rivers; we who have understood there is another light within
The fields, ghats, paths: its afternoon grayness is in our bodies —
As we let go our seeing hands, that light remains constant:
Kankabati of the earth floats there and attains a body of pale incense.

Before death what more do we wish to understand? Do I not know that
The face of gray death awakes like a wall at the head of all prostrate
Reddened desires. Once there was a dream in this world — there was gold
That attained silent peace, as though by some magician's need.
What more do we wish to understand? Haven't we heard the call of wings
As the sun faded? Haven't we seen the crow fly off into fields of fog!


Visualized by MetaNym